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Les céramiques de la Grèce de l'Est et leur diffusion en Occident

Centre Jean Bérard
Institut français de Naples

Pottery evidence from the North Aegean (8th-6th cent. B.C.)

Katerina Rhomiopoulou

Note de l’éditeur


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1The history of the coastal cities and settlements of the North Aegean from the early Iron Age to the Archaic Period may be followed to some extent in the comparatively scanty written references in later ancient historians, geographers, or other authors, and in the archaeological discoveries that have come to light either by chance or as the result of excavation, but it remains a dark chapter, at least for the colonisation period and the preceeding centuries. It is only for the period of the Persian Wars and onwards that our information becomes more complete, or, to put it better, closer to reality, thanks to Herodot and Thucydides.

2The confused picture that we have of the history of the coastal settlements of Macedonia and Thrace (from Thessaloniki to the river Strymon, and from there to the river Hebros) is due to the fact that excavations so far have been very few in number and limited in extent. It is therefore impossible to form a complete picture of what was happening, of relations with other areas in the Aegean, and of the problems that arose between the colonists of the coasts and the natives of the hinterland. Modern scholars concerned with the history of colonisation and of movements within the Aegean world from 12th to the 6th century B.C., therefore, are either silent with regard to the North Aegean, or merely repeat the same evidence or theories; this phenomenon can be seen in the bibliography of works from the beginning of the century to the present day. The same is true of the study of the pottery. When one reads the various publications and articles dealing with the pottery of the Aegean, Asia Minor and the colonies of the Black Sea and the West from the 8th to the 6th centuries B.C., it quickly becomes apparent that the coasts of the North Aegean (Chalkidike and Thrace) are mentioned only incidentally and without discussion. The case of Thasos is an exception, for there, the local history of the colonisation and the archaeological data have been studied at length by French archaeologists; and the recent Greek excavations in settlements dating from the Bronze Age and Early Iron will furnish interesting information about the situation prevailing on the island in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. and also about the relations between the local inhabitants and the other islands of the Aegean, the Troad, Aeolia and the Thracian coast opposite, before the Parian settlement had firmly established itself.

3The limited length of this communication permits me to give only a brief indication of the excavations and pottery finds from the period in question, in the region that extends eastwards from the river Hebros as far as the Chalkidike and the gulf of Thermaikos in the west. I shall dwell at somewhat greater length on the Chalkidike, for I believe this to be the crucial geographical point, which should shed light on the evolution of the pottery from the Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age and on the mutual influences between northern and Aegean elements, as well as between the former and elements of NW. Asia Minor and the Aeolid down to the ripe Archaic Period, when the dominant pottery styles are the Corinthian and Attic and their local imitations.

4The density of the colonies and the origin of their settlers may be seen on the map.

  • 1 The colonisation of the Chalkidike is one of the subjects most urgently in need of research. From t (...)

5Beginning in the east, the colonies from the Hebros to the Nestos river are mainly East Greek with a Thasian wedge at Stryme. From the Nestos river to the Strymon the coast is dominated by the Thasians (of Parian origin). At the mouth of the Strymon matters become complicated with Parians, Andrians and Ionians (Milesians). To the west of the Strymon, however, is an area clearly dominated by the Andrians, followed by the Chalkidike peninsula, where we have a picture of «Eretrian» and «Chalkidian» colonies that is confused in terms of foundation dates1, where we are faced with question, which has so far received no satisfactory answer as to how far the peninsula owed its name to Chalkis in Euboea, and how far to the «Chalkidic tribe» that settled there as part of the general migration of the Ionians to South Greece, the Aegean and Asia Minor during the 13th-12th centuries B.C. Those who support the view that the settlement of the Chalkidike took place at an era earlier than the well-known period of colonisation in the 8th century B.C., base themselves on historical and linguistic evidence that is persuasive enough; a careful study of the pottery of the Early Iron Age and the «orientalising period» might give positive support to this evidence or reject it decisively.

  • 2 The evidence of Corinthian pottery must be treated with caution. It was a pottery of the highest qu (...)
  • 3 Plutarch, Q. Gr. 30.

6In any event the troubled history of the Aegean in the 8th and 7th centuries, and the competition between the great naval and commercial powers to extend their influence through colonies, is undoubtedly closely interwoven with the military clashes of the period, for which very little evidence has survived to the present day. The outcome of these clashes, however, is reflected in the colonies of the northern coasts of the Aegean: the friendship between Paros and Miletos and her allies precluded the appearance in the Northern Aegean of powerful Naxos, and also of Corinth2. The Milesian Coalition, on the other hand was the dominai)): colonising force (Miletos, Samos, Chios, Teos, Clazomenae), and protected the spread of Paros along the Thracian coast, and also that of Andros, despite the hostility between the latter and Paros3; for we must not forget that Andros belonged to the sphere of influence of Eretria, whose friendship with Miletos continued till the 5th century B.C.

7The colonies along the coast of the Northern Aegean may be divided into two categories: colonies that were at once agrarian and commercial, and that were founded in areas where they could control communications and practise trade (Ionian and Parian-Thasian colonies), and colonies with an agrarian economy (Euboean and Andrian colonies) that retained their purely agrarian nature; the latter group remained outside the main stream of colonisation, intermixed with their indigenous neighbours, and became the indifferent allies or subjects of a dominating Greek city, till the beginning of the 4th century B.C.

Pottery from excavated sites along the coasts of the North Aegean

  • 4 Rh. Mus. fur Phil., 1976, pp. 1-3. E. Meyer discusses the identification of the sites of «Samothrac (...)

8Mesembria4, in the area which was called «the walls of Samothrace Σαμοθρηίκεα τεὶχεα», has been excavated since 1966, and amongst the finds there are rough «plain ware» pots from the Early Iron Age, and sherds of the «Wild Goat» type, probably from north Ionian or Cycladic rather than Rhodian workshops.

9Maroneia, founded by Chios in the first half of the 7th century B.C., has been the subject of continuous research for the last twenty years, but so far the site of the Chians first settlement, and the plan of the archaic town generally, are unknown. There is reason to believe, however, that the Mycenaeans entered the area, and that east Greek pottery existed alongside that of the native inhabitants during the first decades of the 7th century B.C.

10In the case of Stryme, the colony of Thasos, we know of the struggles between Maroneia and Thasos to occupy it, but research has so far yielded no pottery from the first settlement by the Thasians in the first half of the 7th century B.C.

11Abdera is the most genuinely East Greek colony on the Thracian coast; it was originally founded by Clazomenians in the middle of the 7th century, but the colony failed and was subsequently refounded by Ionians from Teos about 545 B.C. Excavation began here in 1952, and has continued at intervals ever since, yielding great quantities of pottery from East Greek workshops (7th and 6th century B.C.); also of interest is the existence of a local workshop at the end of the 6th century B.C., which imitated the painted sarcophagi of the Clazomenian type. Clazomenian pottery is common not only at Abdera, which had special connections with Clazomenae, but also further west along the whole of the «Thasian Peraea».

12The area extending westwards from Abdera to the river Strymon was clearly dominated by ParosThasos. The known colonies on the coast and inland are Pistyros, Akontisma, Neapolis, Antisara, Oesyme-Ematheia, Apollonia, Galepsos, Daton, Skapte Hyle and Amphipolis, of which Neapolis, Oesyme and Antisara have been excavated systematically. The finds demonstrate that the colonies on these sites were slightly later than or possibly contemporary with the colonisation of Thasos by the Parians. There is an abundance of sherds from East Greek and Cycladic workshops, a feature of which is the existence of the so-called «Melian» painted pithos-amphoras, that are in fact Parian. The earliest pottery discovered is dated to the end of the third quarter of the 7th century B.C., and we thus have a «terminus ante quern» for the foundation dates of the Thasian colonies on the Thracian coast opposite.

13The region around the mouth of the river Strymon was an area of conflict and rivalry between the Parians, Andrians and some East Greeks (Milesians e.t.c) before the Athenians made their appearance here. It is certain that the indigenous Thracians did not withdraw from their region, but remained in their settlements and entered into relations with the colonists that were sometimes peaceful and sometimes hostile; we cannot be sure, therefore, if East greek pottery finds from this area dating from the 7th to the 6th B.C. belong to sites settled by colonists, or to Thracian sites that had been continuously occupied from the Bronze Age and later to historical times.

14Argilos, Kerdylion, to the west of the Strymon mouth, followed by Stageira, Akanthos and Sane on Athos, were colonies of Andros. The site of Argilos, which was perhaps one of the earliest colonies in the area, founded in the 7th century B.C. has not been certainly identified, but there are strong indications as to where it might have been, and we have some pottery («ionian»?) from the beginning of the 6th century.

15The case of Akanthos is more interesting: the site is definitely known, and systematic excavation has been taking place at the archaic and classical cemetery since 1973. The earliest pottery from the cemetery is from the first half of the 7th century B.C., though earlier material may yet be found. Amongst it, there is pottery from the northern Cyclades-Euboea; of pottery from East Greek workshops, the bulk is of North Ionian origin. There is also «Rhodian» ware, but we probably have here local imitation, either direct or indirect, imported from neighbouring colonies such as Thasos, even though Thasos was not on friendly terms with the eastern coast of the Chalkidike at this period.

16In the 6th century and the first decades of the 5th, Corinthian, East Greek and Cycladic wares predominate, and there is less Attic ware. Of the figurines, «Rhodian» types are the most common; they are not imports, however, but are either local imitations or come from workshops in neighbouring areas (Thasos). Another typical group consists of «wave-line» hydrias and amphoras. There are both East Greek imports and local products. The preclassical pottery of Akanthos from the end of the 8th century to the beginning of the 5th may be described as follows: sub-geometric related directly to the sphere of the northern Cyclades-Euboea, Corinthian pottery of all phases and East Greek, especially «Rhodian» and «north-ionian».

17The excavations that have begun in recent years in the «Eretrian» colonies on Pallene, the westernmost prong of the Chalkidike have all been rescue excavations and there is no clear stratigraphy. From sites like Aphytis, Mende, Neapolis and Skione, we so far have nothing earlier than the 5th century, but from the site of the so called «Sane», geometric and sub-geometric Corinthian and Cycladic pottery has been found, along with a small amount of East-Greek, and a great quantity of Corinthian ware for all the phases from the end of the 7th cent. to the 6th cent. onward. The material from Same come from both tombs and the remains of dwellings.

18There has been no systematic excavation at Aineia, but the site has yielded geometric and sub-geometric wares from the Northern Cyclades-Euboea group, and local imitations of them.

19«Chalcidian» Torone on Sithonia, and «Eretrian» Methone on the west side of the Thérmaic gulf, have yielded nothing earlier than the 5th century, despite the fact that they are thought to be among the oldest colonies in the area and to date from the 8th century B.C. Systematic excavation began last year at Torone, and the indications are that pottery earlier than the 5th century B.C. will be found.

20In conclusion, it should be observed that even if excavations should take place on a systematic basis in the North Aegean, it would not be an area that would shed light on the problem of the East Greek pottery workshops, which so far remains a confused one, despite the recent publications of material; for it was a region received large numbers of imports from the different centers, and improvised its own products in a rough and ready way, imitating, and at the same time mingling the various decorative motifs (this phenomenon may be observed particularly in the Chalkidike, where it continues down to the local ware of the 4th century B.C.).

21The main interest of the region lies in the study of the meeting and co-existence of the local Thracian elements, from the Bronze Age on, with the imported ware from Asia Minor, the Eastern Islands and the Cyclades that come in with the colonists, and in the study of the influences they exerted on each other. In other words, the study of the pottery is more likely to produce interesting evidence bearing on questions relating to population changes and historical developments in this important crossroads area, than to explain problems relating to artistic evolution, production and influences.


Selected bibliography

Bilabel, Die Ionische Kolonisation, Philologus, Suppl. XIV.

Bradeen, The Chalkidians in Thrace, Ann. Journ. of Phil., 1952.

Bérard, L’expansion et la colonisation grecques.

Cook J. M., JHS, 1946.

Boardman, B.S.A. 1957 and J.H.S. 1965.

Zahrnt M., Olynth und die Chalkidier, Vestigia, 14 (1971).

Kontoleon, Arch. Ephem., 1963, pp. 1-26.

Lazaridis D., Thasos and its Peraia. Ancient greek cities, 5.

Id., Abdera and Dikaia. Ancient greek cities, 6.

Id., Samothrace and its Peraia. Ancient greek cities, 7.

Id., Maroneia and Orthagoria. Ancient greek cities, 16.


1 The colonisation of the Chalkidike is one of the subjects most urgently in need of research. From the evidence at present available, we may suggest that the colonisation occured before the outbreak of the Lelantine War — that is before the end of the 8th century B.C.

2 The evidence of Corinthian pottery must be treated with caution. It was a pottery of the highest quality, worth possessing and carrying for its own sake by any Greek, and it does not automatically indicate the active participation of the Corinthian traders in the east and north of the Aegean. Corinthian vases have been discovered throughout the Greek world, without necessarily indicating Corinthian presence or trade.

3 Plutarch, Q. Gr. 30.

4 Rh. Mus. fur Phil., 1976, pp. 1-3. E. Meyer discusses the identification of the sites of «Samothracian Peraea».

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